Lupone and Patinkin schmaltz it up, old-school style

Not since Frankenstein met the Wolf Man have two performers been so harmoniously in sync as Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin. Both came to the forefront in 1979, he as a troubador Che, playing devil's advocate to her Dior-draped Lady Hitler in Evita. They're both distinctively voiced gargoyles, too eccentric in style and appearance to magnify their talents on the silver screen, and too sophisticated and self-indulgent for pop glory. They're the last remnants of a dying breed that extends back to Sophie Tucker playing the Palace — namely, vaudevillians who became stars of the musical THEE-ah-tre.

Many Broadway babies, when removed from the fertile soil of book shows, shrivel into Vegas cuties, à la Mitzi Gaynor. However, our hard-edged duo is too savvy for that. An Evening with Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin is directed by Patinkin, who co-wrote it with pianist Paul Ford. Fosse-trained Ann Reinking provided the choreography. This revue works on two levels: as an ode to the emotional power of post-Oklahoma! musical theater and, as to be expected (and dreaded by some), a vanity project for these two monstres sacrés manqués. Yes, both revel in their trademark affectations: he with the most irrepressible falsetto since Tiny Tim, and nervous tics that can blossom into psychotic variations on Al Jolson; she with her relentless sneer and steely belt, suggesting a Brooklyn-bred Medea ready to execute molestation or mothering.

Yet what makes the evening more than schmaltz is a notion reminiscent of a conjectural joke by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, the visual chronicler of Broadway for more than a half century. In the '60s, he came up with a Playbill series in which he would sketch such improbable castings as Carol Channing as Lady Macbeth and Barbra Streisand as Saint Joan. Similarly, here the two leads place themselves into roles that age and appearance would make problematic e.g., the 60-year-old Lupone's Nellie Forbush of South Pacific swooning to Patinkin's yiddische, less-than-hunky Emile de Becque. It's a testament to their fervor that, though wrong in every aspect, they still impart an emotional truth to "A Cockeyed Optimist" and "Some Enchanted Evening." Later on, they perform the same feat with the famous bench scene from Carousel.

The show is divided into the different moods of musical theater, from upbeat ditties about love and marriage which segue into Sondheim songs about the fear of commitment, to vaudeville specialties, such as a soft-shoe rendition of Kander and Ebb's "Coffee in a Cardboard Cup." There's also a nod to the singers' greatest hits, including Lupone's "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" and Patinkin doing one of his patented, nervous-breakdown routines with "The-God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me-Blues" from Follies.

There's no doubt that these two are theater's equivalents of anchovies. Most consumers will find them overwhelming and off-putting. But those who appreciate the oddly satisfying taste will find the evening a memorable feast.


More by Keith A. Joseph


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